Cork v Galway: Christy O'Connor on why Rebels must still silence the doubters

'In many ways, this All-Ireland hurling quarter-final is the battle of the two great enigmas in hurling'
Cork v Galway: Christy O'Connor on why Rebels must still silence the doubters

Robbie O'Flynn has been one of the Cork hurlers this season. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

IN his post-match comments after last Saturday’s game in Corrigan Park, Kieran Kingston mentioned the word complacency twice because he was keen to stress how much focus Cork had placed on eradiating that insidious threat in a tricky match so far from home and in a game Cork dared not lose.

No matter how hard Cork tried, no matter how much they sought to paint the apocalyptic implications of defeat, that was always going to be hard for Kingston and his management in the circumstances. If Cork won by 30 points or by just one, they were still going to get the same thanks — zero.

Cork just had to grind their way through the gears, fully aware that they were never likely to hit top speed, not because they didn’t need to but because of trying to preserve as much gas as possible for Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway.

Cork were ropey in the first half and Antrim should have been further ahead than one point at half time. Kingston felt that any complacency was primarily evident in Cork’s decision-making to hunt for goals when handy point options were available.

That contributed to just a 54% conversion rate in the first half, but Cork stated their intent through their shooting early in the second half, nailing nine of their first 10 shots. Cork’s conversion rate in the second half was 69%.

Once again, Conor Lehane was Cork’s best player. From 19 plays, Lehane scored six points, had one direct assist, and was directly involved in four more scores.

Those numbers tally with Barry Cleary’s stats from GAA Insights, which showed this week that Lehane is the second-highest player in the country (after Limerick’s Cathal O’Neill) for shot involvements. Lehane has an average shot involvement (shots from play, assists, or passes to an eventual shooter) of 10.65 points per game.

Conor Lehane of Cork in action against Joe Maskey of Antrim last weekend. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Conor Lehane of Cork in action against Joe Maskey of Antrim last weekend. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Robbie O’Flynn also had an excellent match. From 17 plays, O’Flynn scored 0-6, three of which he scored after winning a Cork puck-out, along with two assists.

The other standout performance was the second-half display of Seamus Harnedy. From 11 plays in that period, Harnedy scored 1-4 and had two assists.

Tim O’Mahony also made a big contribution from 10 plays. As well as creating the first goal before being fouled for the penalty, he had two more assists as well as forcing a 65 that was converted.

Ciarán Joyce had another fine game too.

Some other performances are hard to assess in a game that had no real intensity despite Antrim having narrowed the pitch another couple of yards to try to make life even more uncomfortable for their opponents. Cork still did what they had to do, hitting 3-27 in the process.

That lack of real aggression and intensity from both sides makes it harder again to gauge where Cork are really at, especially when they shipped 2-19.

They are in a much better position now than they were after the opening two rounds of the Munster championship, but — considering Cork failed so badly in the heat of Limerick and Clare’s ferocity — a proper judgement can’t be made of this side until they can absorb that heat and prosper in such a furnace.

POWER PLAY

Galway have the physical power and strength to whip up that kind of a storm. However, their display in the Leinster final was abysmal. They made the mistake of trying to take on Kilkenny on a war footing but Galway will fully appreciate how important it is to get the balance right in this match.

If Galway want this to be an open free-flowing shoot out, Cork could beat them by 10 points. If Galway make this into a war and hunt Cork down like Clare and Limerick did, especially as Cork try and build the play through their midfield platform, Galway have the capacity to physically dominate Cork and hurt them on the scoreboard at the other end.

The terms and conditions are always very clear in any knockout game but they will be even clearer again for Galway. They’ve been savaged in their own county since the Leinster final. They will have the smallest support of the four counties on Saturday.

Galway have everything to prove, but they also owe manager Henry Shefflin the respect they didn’t give him on the day he needed to see it most — against Kilkenny in Croke Park.

Seamus Flanagan of Limerick is tackled by Pádraic Mannion of Galway. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Seamus Flanagan of Limerick is tackled by Pádraic Mannion of Galway. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Considering the commitment Shefflin has given to Galway this year, especially after losing his brother in tragic circumstances in March, the players have an absolute duty to empty themselves now in pursuit of a performance that will show Shefflin that this group are worth reinvesting in again next year.

Emotion alone is never enough to win a championship match, but that kind of emotion could turn Galway into a fireball if they marry it with their talent. If they do that, can Cork withstand it?

Either way, are Galway good enough? Their defence played well but too many of their big players from midfield up were way below par against Kilkenny. Shefflin has shown a lot of loyalty to a core group of 17 players but he will surely shake it up now.

Evan Niland deserves to start, especially for his free-taking consistency, and particularly after Conor Cooney’s struggles on placed balls in the Leinster final, when he had a conversion rate of just 64%.

In many ways, this is the battle of the two great enigmas in hurling. Can Galway turn their season around? Cork look to have flipped their form at just the right time but that claim is still well short of being proven.

At least Saturday will provide more compelling evidence.

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